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The False Idol of Greed
Channel: Hamza Yusuf
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There were two things that I really liked to look at with you. And one of them was the, you know, the obviously personal problem, which is, I think, where our religions are deeply rooted in the idea that ultimately you're responsible for yourself, you know, the obsession with trying to change the world without doing the work of changing the self, seems to be a hallmark of, of just a real misguidance that a lot of people suffer from. But I was, I found this interesting quote, because Aquinas is, you know, considered greed, one of the worst, and because so much, and probably probably from Timothy,
the, the idea that filaria you know, the love of wealth or cupidity, or avarice is the root of evil. But James Ogilvy said a very interesting thing kind of explaining that he said, greed turns love into lust, leisure into slaw, hunger into gluttony, honor into pride, righteous indignation into anger, and admiration into envy. If it weren't for greed, we'd suffer fewer of the other vices. Well, what that suggests, was precisely that the greed is the root of evils. It also suggests that we shouldn't interpret greed too narrowly as having to do with material things or material wealth, that what greed consists in is wanting more than is good. wanting more than it is good to have. If
you want, if you admire
in a moderate way, that will turn to envy. If you love in an immoderate way that will turn to lust. It's the thing that corrupts other things and creates the seven, the seven, the six other deadly sins, I think there's a debate Horace, in his enumeration of the vices put average, at the very top.
And and I think Christianity traditionally put pride at the top. Yeah, that's roms room. And Islam debated about pride, envy the and believe it or not slot,
because they felt that slot, which I would translate as a word called hafla,
which is a kind of a forgetfulness of one's self, so that they don't, they don't engage in the work necessary, given the time that we've been given, which is actually quite short, to prepare the soul for this for the next stage of the journey. So they kind of debated about these things, but they, they identified envy, and I think envy and greed are obviously related.
And in some ways, all the sins have these interrelationships. And I've pointed this out before, but I'll say it again, the, you know, Dorothy Sayers, I think, did something important by reminding us that the, to call them sins, which is actually what Gregory Pope Gregory changed it from the original
Evagrius his denomination of temptations or thoughts? And, and so the idea that they're really this seven capital states of being, hence they're mortal. They're deadly, because you're in that state. It's not like you lost one time or you have greed one time or, or you have it's, that's, that's the state that you're in. Yeah, they're, I think, strictly speaking, their vices. There's a habitus to habitus is the same way that the virtues are habitus. And this Yeah, this is a state of being. So they've got a dynamic orientation in a direction. So you're going to be there on autopilot, unless something turns you around, or you turn yourself around, some repentance is required. This is
exactly what Hume denied. You know, Hume believed that our actions simply went off from us, and their effects were entirely in the world external to us, and not internal to us. So he misses the whole Aristotelian idea of virtues and vices, and I think that's why Aquinas deals with the virtues and vices in his section on habit.
Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Which Which is interesting, because in Arabic, the word for habitus, which the Latin is the same root. So in Arabic, it's Melaka, which literally means what you possess. So in the texts of Aquinas of Aristotle that Aquinas was working with, which had come through the heat, the Arabic, what would the word have been, would have been that word. In Arabic, it was it was Melaka, which means it's like a faculty, it's a possession, it's something you've acquired. And that gets to what you just said, I think that that the default setting is what possesses you. And the habitus is where you take possession of you take possession. So you actually, you're in control,
it's no longer controlling you as a kind of default setting, and hence, the, the cycle Nokia, right, this battle between the vices and the virtues, in terms of that battle.
What are some of the fortifications against a greed? And why why do you think,
greed is, is? It seems to be a virtue now in in our culture there, you know, how has it been? You know, Thomas Sol said that envy was a terrible vise, but it was transmuted into a virtue under the name of social justice. And so So what what has greed?
I think success really, he's very successful. There's a, there's a corrupted reading of Adam Smith. And the concept of the invisible hand, which was taught to me by my introduction to economics teacher, when I was in college, with a very simple heuristic device that he used in almost every class, to teach us the law of supply and demand, and other fundamental economic laws, he would begin by saying, assume greed, assume greed, then everything else logically would follow from that. And so markets will work efficiently, if you assume greed.
Now, on that corrupted view of of Smith,
you take a vise greed, and by an invisible hand, it's turned into a virtue. So individually act greedily. The net result for society is the is the good of prosperity.
But I really think that is a corruption of Smith and of this whole tradition of the moral philosophy of economics, which is really what Smith is all about. Smith is not an economist in any modern sense. He's a philosopher and a moral philosopher, economy, people forget that economics was the third branch of moral philosophy, he doesn't assume that people will be greedy, and some people will be greedy. There are all sorts of reasons apart from greed that you might want to have money, or wealth. You might want it for charitable purposes. You might want it for not for itself, but for the status that attaches to it that's not virtuous. But strictly speaking, you're what you're after
there is not the money itself. The Miser is after the money itself, but he's a rather pathetic figure. I'd like to talk in our video conversation a bit about the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, because what makes Scrooge so such a pathetic figure is that he's not after the money for status, he's not after the money to buy things with. It hasn't buy anything. He won't even buy an extra piece of bread at dinner.
He's after the money just for its own sake. That's pure greed. But it's clearly a pathology. It does him no good, it does any but doesn't do anybody, any good. And it's only when the visiting spirits strip away the illusions that have caused him to fall into this mistake of treating money as if it's something good in itself and not simply something instrumentally valuable when it's valuable at all. It's only after the angels or the spirits strip that away that he can reform his life. You know, it's interesting that you're bringing that up because
the miser it's really about fear, isn't it because they fear poverty or they fear a very often they they come out of impoverished circumstances and there's a fear that they're going to go back to that or lose it. And and it's fear that you know, Jacob Marley when he shows up, it's really fear that changes. Scrooge realizing that he's got limited time and he couldn't
I end up with all those treasure chests chained to him. I mean, we have in our generation homes, the, the memory of our parents and grandparents of being depression children. Right? And that that caused, I think, a tremendous amount of fear. And it caused, you know, people like my father, your father's probably younger than my dad, my dad's 95 Now, but it would be your grandfather, maybe. Anyway, people like that to really live in fear, even in times of great prosperity like the 1950s. Right, the real fear that we could go back there. Now, of course, we've never we've never known anything, our generation has never known nothing like that. That so it's hard to appreciate why they
would be so scared and why they would err on the side of hoarding.
One of the things that Dorothy Sayers talks about in her essay, the six other deadly sins, you know, she she points out that a lot, a lot of people like when when she's mentioned the seven deadly sins, she said, people will say, what are the other six? Yeah, everybody knows what the first one right? And and so and so. She, she talked about how the fact because she wrote the essay during the war, World War Two, and she talks about the fact that it really forced people to address some of those sins. It because of the circumstances that they were forced into it. So she talks about that the I did the spendthrift suddenly becomes thrifty in straitened circumstances. So people started for
instance, now they encourage you to recycle, people were recycling during World War Two, everything was being recycled, because of the necessity. And that gets back to this idea of sumptuary laws, which which are, to me very fascinating, because for instance, I think it was the Second Punic War when the sumptuary laws were introduced, because they were so worried about people
being too luxurious right to and and they and they would lose that Spartans spirit that enabled them to withstand hardship. And I think this country now, like you said, we've had, we've had an incredibly long run, I don't think people realize people that know history know, that the the, the type of affluence that our civilization has had and the types of Luxuria that has seeped in to this civilization. And I think these deadly sins. I mean, it's very interesting that Gregory really,
his taxonomy comes in the, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Romans, with with the with, with the sins, completely corroding that culture and civilization. And I think in fact,
the the Christians saw greed as as one of the major they used to write apparently, they wrote graffiti on the Roman walls aro MA from the RE decks, Omnium? You know, the greed is the root of all evil. So they would actually have an acronym from Timothy's verse about greed. So they saw greed as something that had really destroyed the Romans, partly because of the incredible greed and corruption in the government. So I mean, our culture right now seems to be I see the the, the grip of at least three of these deadly sins. I mean, certainly, lust has an incredible grip on this civilization. But envy and, and and greed seem to be an anger, really, I mean, when it gets down to
it all seven are pretty well established in the American ethos right now. I mean, what do you think? I think it means that civilization or our civilization is in serious trouble. Right? We have lost our moral moorings, our moral foundations, we sometimes treat vices as if they're virtues, and even treat virtues as if their vices and I think we have to get straight about these things. But it's very hard because once the Once the machine is up and running, people get caught up in that in that machine, and their values get messed up, we have a transvaluation of values to quote that concept of niches that while things like wealth, status, prestige,
are good things in the sense that they're not bad things. They're not bad in themselves. With wealth. You can do many good things, you can use yours. So
social standing or social status to do many good things. But they are, while they are not bad things, their value is merely instrumental. Wealth is not a good in itself.
Status is not a good in itself. It's what you do with them that makes them good and, and bad. So if those are not the things that are good in themselves, if those are not the things to which we should fundamentally direct ourselves that we should be most concerned about, then what are those things, the things that aren't merely instrumentally, valuable family,
looking out for other people, developing a virtuous character,
honoring the honorable beginning with God, but everything else, then in God's creation, that is honorable. Getting students today to get their value straight is important. In theory, they understand that but they very rarely advert to it, because we have all these media of culture. And I don't just mean the news and entertainment media. I mean, all the the mechanisms through which a culture communicates to young people what's important, are, in effect, sending the message that what really matters, what you should really be striving for are wealth, status, prestige, celebrity, and so forth. And those things, while again, they're not bad in themselves, and can be instrumentally.
Good. also open the door to corruption. Because it's so easy to fall in love with them, take the approval of other people take take celebrity, things like that.
It's very easy to lust for those things, to be greedy about those things, to want more than is good for you or good for anybody. And we human beings were very easily addicted to things like applause, things like approval. But if we're addicted, that means that when push comes to shove, and it is our spiritual and moral obligation to stand up against what's wrong, right, even when the entire culture is celebrating What's wrong, right, we will hold back from doing it, we will be afraid to do it. Because our addiction to applause to approval stops us prevents us from speaking out from standing up for what's right for, for criticizing What's wrong for playing the prophetic role that all the
great monotheistic traditions, see as central not just for great prophets, not just for, you know, Jesus, and Moses and Muhammad, but for all of us that all of us have an obligation to do that, that gets lost. You know, it's interesting, you're saying that because I think you're somebody that to me, and one of the things that I admire most about you is that you, you tend to take positions that are are certainly counter to the zeitgeist. And and I remember once you asked me about something, and I said to you,
you know, we have to choose our battles. And and you said to me, no, we have to fear God. That's
yeah. And and, you know, it really affected me when you said that because, you know, the, when you hear the truth, the truth rings loudly in the ear. And and I think this is a in many ways, it's it's a craven age where people
you know, they,
they're just afraid to, to speak out. And, and I think the, the canceled culture is a good example of that, where
it's a it's a vociferous minority that kind of shouts so loud that people start thinking it's actually the majority and and there really is a silent majority of people that just know something's deeply wrong, but there's not enough people and too often the people that do speak out or like Cassandra's, they, they they, you know, the Arab say NACA Smackdown. Owner data Hey, yeah, what I can hire the demon to nadie you would have made them here, had you been calling somebody that was alive, but unfortunately, you're only calling the dead. And, and, and there's a lot of truth to that. But, you know, this is the fight that we're in of trying to maintain the virtues of ascendancy
in a civilization when we see the vices of dissent.
When when that civilization is on its way down, you know, trying to call people back to those and there's a verse in the chapter called hood in the Quran that says
Had it not had there not been more people who maintained the virtues of ascendancy when corruption began to come into the culture. And one of the things that the prophets ladies said, um, he said that what destroys civilizations, he's he identified two diseases. He said greed and and hatred,
that they will rip a society apart. And I think, I think at the root of that, it seems to me that one of the daughters of avidity or greed is, is his insensitivity to the suffering of others, you know, this lack of mercy. And I think when you have, I mean, when I look at the Quran, when I look at the the, the New Testament in particular, so much of it deals with calling people to taking care of the less fortunate. And I think the problem for me with a lot of the liberal approach to that in the socialistic approach is there's a forced,
you know, they they take the wealth from people forcefully, and then they redistribute it very often poorly, as has been pointed out by many, many people, and, and certainly all the countries that have adopted that model tend to really suffer greatly. I mean, when when, when Stalin implemented the collectivist farms in the Ukraine, people, they, they, they didn't want to work in the collectivist farms. So to punish them, he just let them starve to death. And I think they estimate between 77 and 14 million people starve to death. During that period. It's quite horrific. So this this idea of just, you know, we know, all the evidence shows that religious people donate far more of their
wealth than secular people. This has been shown consistently in the social sciences. But really, I think, getting to some awareness of how much disparity there is, seems to me to be
a real priority to prevent the type of social breakdown that naturally will occur when you have these great disparities of wealth. You know,
a lot of people on both the political right in the political left, the Libertarians and the socialists, tend to think of the problem as a problem involving two poles or two parties, the individual and the state.
And the question is, how much authority should be in the individual and how much authority should be in the state and obviously, the socialists want to the tip things in the direction of more authority for the state, the Libertarians want to tip things in favor of more authority for the individual. But I've always thought that misrepresents the question from the beginning. And this results in a distorted analysis. Because really, there are three poles or three parties, there is the individual, of course, there is the state, but then also, there's the institutions of civil society, right? Beginning with the family,
the religious community, the mosque, the local civic association, the mosque, the synagogue, the temple, the church, the private associations of every description, that have to bear in any decent society, the lion's share of the burden of providing health, education and welfare, including to those who are in need, and even with those who are not in need, the institutions that have to play the primary role in bringing up children and, and transmitting to each new generation, the the virtues, the habits of heart and mind, that enable people to lead successful lives and be good citizens. But the institutions of civil society vanish. In the analysis of both the Libertarians and
the socialists, the socialists will simply have the state take over the role of the family, or the mosque or church or synagogue or the Civic Association, or they'll commandeer those institutions of civil society into the service of the instrumentalities of the of the state, take them over. And of course, the Libertarians just miss it or miss the institutions, civil society all together. And they just want to make sure that the state does not oppress the individual, but I think it falls to us.
Especially religious people who live our lives in those institutions of civil society. These are these are our primary homes even, even even more primary than, than the nation we belong to. For example.
We can be good loyal, patriotic citizens but but you know, as a Muslim, I know as a Christian that our first allegiance is to God
And therefore, our very first allegiance is to our, our religious community and that shouldn't scandalize anybody, I want that to be the case. I want my fellow Christians to be Christians first American second, because I think if they're good Christians, they will be good Americans, I want my Muslim friends to be Muslim. First, I know the scandalized a lot of Christians, they should be Muslims first, and American. Second, if they're good Muslims, they'll be good Americans and same for Jews. So I think we need to be in the forefront of reminding everyone, our libertarian friends and our socialist friends, that if we're going to serve the poor, if we're going to serve the young, if
we're going to serve the people who are most in need of the delivery of health, education and welfare, the primary role is got to be paid by the institutions of civil society. So I would much rather see the wealthy,
fulfill their obligations to the needy, right, operating primarily, not exclusively, but primarily through the charities, of institutions of faith and other institutions of civil society, and only secondarily through the government in the tax system. I think it's the in the Catholic tradition, we call that the doctrine of subsidiarity, letting the institutions closest to those we are serving, have the resources and have the authority to meet the needs. The distant government doesn't know anybody by name, it doesn't know your children, by name, it doesn't know my children by name, it doesn't know the person who finds himself addicted to drugs, or the person who is mentally disabled.
It doesn't know the person by name, right. But the local religious institution who reaches out to serve those people know the individuals by name they and by name here, I'm just using that as a metaphor. They know their particular needs, the circumstances, why they're in the position that they're in what can be done to help what has been tried before what has failed? What might work this time, how do we deal with people, that's why those institutions of civil society are so important, and we've got to get our fellow Americans is a very wealthy prosperous country, there's going to be a lot of money available to help people but we could blow it or continue to blow it unless we
rejuvenate, renew, revive, reinvigorate the institutions of civil society. Well, and and how, you know, that gets to another problem, which is the the Bowling Alone phenomenon, you know, Putnams argument about what's happened in, in, in America with the the loss of these organizations. I mean, so many of these institutions have are derelict in a lot of ways. They're, they're, they're neglected. And I'm you and I, I think we both agree that government is not very effective at dealing the amount of money that government had, has put into addressing the poverty issue. I mean, we're looking at trillions of dollars. That's right at Tom said trillions of dollars, it's overwhelmingly
beyond belief. How ineffectual. They have been I grew up in the heart of Appalachian, I grew up in the hills of West Virginia. And although my father was poor growing up, I never faced poverty. I never lived in poverty. But I lived around a lot of poor people. They were my classmates. And they were they were my friends. They were my father's friends, my family's friends.
And this was at the time when the Great Society programs were being launched. And it was a time of great excitement and enthusiasm, because we all knew that the situation economically in Appalachia was bad. And reforms were needed. And we at first had a great deal of hope that the government coming in with huge influxes of money would make a great positive difference and help to get people back up on their, on their feet. But I very quickly saw even as a young man, that the programs were not only failing very often and very rarely succeeded. But worse than failing, they were counterproductive. They were having negative effects on the very people they were designed to help.
And that helped to put me on a path to a different kind of view about politics. I used to be much more favorable toward large governmental programs to large to solve large social problem problems. But when I saw as a young man, the failures, the futility, the counterproductive results of of these programs. That's when I began to see that we've got to reinvigorate and work through the institutions of civil society. Although you
You know, one of the things about the Muslim community in the United States was a very dynamic community.
They have been able to build mosques all over the country. And largely because they have to rely on themselves. So, you know, in Muslim countries where the state really is the regulator of religion,
because that's absent here. There's there's a lot more, I think, energy in the religious community, like I've seen how
just how the state intervention in religion kind of kills it fascinates something very, very important in religion, that, that that idea of self reliance, which is so fundamentally American, right back to Emerson, you know, it's just something that, I think is a hallmark of the of the American experiment. So I Yeah, I'm a little wary of government intervention. Personally, I think, you know, let me give an example. When I was a very young person across the way here, I grew up in a working class town. And I remember a family's house burnt down.
For weeks after that buckets came to all the houses and everybody put money in it, and the house was rebuilt. And I vividly remember this as a as a as a youngster, the what, what that taught me was, that's what community is about. And and I grew up in a time where you still knew everybody in a pretty wide set, like I knew, many, many neighbors. And we knew them by their names, we always called the parents by Mr. And Mrs. And, you know, so that that was fire insurance. Right? And there's a beautiful verse in the Quran that says, Help one another in in righteousness and piety and don't help one another in sinfulness and wrongdoing. And that verse was revealed for Muslims working
with people, other people, it wasn't just about Muslims, because that was kind of understood. But it was also working like you and I doing work, the work we did with pornography and other things that we've done that we, you know, we have so many shared interests, as well with the Jewish community and including other communities, the Sikhs, the Hindu, the Buddhist communities. That's right. Greed, I think of the deadly sins, it's certainly shared by you know, loud say denounces it in the doubt a Ching, the Buddha, certainly, I mean, he begins the four noble truths with you know, desire, being at the root of it, which obviously, in, in our, in our languages, desire. It's a very
interesting word from from Latin, because it means of the stars are from the stars. So there's something heavenly desire is a heavenly impulse, like, you know, our God has made us for him alone, and our hearts won't rest until they rest in God's garden. So desire really, is something profoundly spiritual, but it can be distorted. That's the whole problem. It can be exactly it's perverted into these and I think greed, in particular, the perversion of greed, to desiring these possessions, you know, this wealth. And and now I want, as we, you know, to come to close on this, I want to look at
what I think is one of the biggest problems in our culture, and that is that we have systems now. I mean, people talk about systems and I'm very much a, you know, I've been accused
of being somebody that ignores all these big problems, and is always focusing on the heart and on an individual changing. Yeah, people people, you're not on the structures. Yeah. Yeah, on the structures, but I would say with greed, I genuinely believe there are serious structural problems. And and one of them is in usury laws. I really feel that the, you know, that usury, which is condemned by everybody, I mean, there's no even John Maynard Keynes condemned usury. You know, it is just seen as an evil Plato condemned it. Aristotle condemned it, Buddha condemned it. Christianity condemns it, Aquinas condemns it. Everybody condemns usury, and yet it's just seen now as something
so normal in society and and it strikes me as very odd because the crit the Catholics in particular, I mean,
The denunciations of usury were so great. And part of the Protestant Reformation. There's a reason why Calvin, the bankers built a statue to Calvin in Geneva, you know, for unleashing
usury, but Calvin never allowed it for poor people like you could not loan to poor people. And even in Deuteronomy, apparently the rabbi's say that the the necessity, this, the foreigner, the stranger that they're permitted to engage was the merchant, it was somebody who had wealth. And so I It strikes me as very odd. So I think your first point is a terribly important one.
Why take someone like Calvin, why does Calvin say alright?
It's morally acceptable in some circumstances, to charge interest on a loan. But you can't do it to poor people. And why does he say that?
What is being condemned when the traditional faiths and the great thinkers of the traditional faiths in the Catholic tradition, Aquinas, for example, what exactly as being condemned by the condemnation of usury?
Well, we're sometimes tempted to think it's straightforward. It's just charging interest on a loan. That's usually that's it, it's condemned.
I think that's not sufficiently nuanced and doesn't get to the problem.
The problem is taking advantage of people's need,
taking advantage for your own benefit of people's need, when what you should be doing is reaching out to them with compassion and care.
So what is being condemned is the charging of interest in virtue of nothing other than the loan itself.
In other words, trying to benefit from no productivity, trying to make money without producing anything or contributing to the production of anything.
So it's one thing as part of a productive process,
to do financing, that doesn't in a competitive market, that drives rates to an equilibrium that does not take advantage of people in virtue of their want, or their desperation, you have somebody who's got a plan, who's got an idea, you can buy into it with a loan structured in a certain way. If you put some moral constraints in place that need to be in place, you haven't done anything wrong, it seems to me that strictly speaking, that's not what usually is supposed to come down. But where you're trying to make money without contributing anything, or make money out of air, as they sometimes say,
where you're simply taking advantage of another person's need to enrich yourself. That's usually and and what tradition of faith, what tradition that believes God is the Father of all, what tradition that that holds that all mankind irrespective of race, or ethnicity, or religion, or anything else are God's children is going to say that's okay. Well, no tradition is going to say that's okay. Which is why you find this ubiquity, you find this universality that we're talking about Hamza, it's not just Islam. It's Judaism. It's Christianity. It's Buddhism. It's, it's the Confucian tradition, all saying basically the same thing. Don't take advantage of people's want to enrich yourself, it's
okay to try to, to build wealth, that's fine for yourself, for your family for the causes you believe in. But do it by making productive contributions, not by taking advantage of other people's need, I can take you right down the road to some of the poorest areas here. And they have these payday loans for those of us who, you know, can go to the nice bank, right and, and, and, quote unquote, reasonable rates, those poor people are being exploited by those same banks that tell you how helpful they are to everybody. But this is what Calvin was condemning Hamza, isn't it? Isn't this exactly what Calvin is? Absolutely. Right. He's not condemning somebody. Nobody alone at any.
Nobody condemns it anymore. It's just not even talked about. And I find it very strange. Sometimes it's dressed up as a virtue. So people say, Well, this is a this is a way of getting immediate cash into the hands of people who need immediate cash. But what we're not dealing with is the underlying problem of the want. Why are they in want why are they in such desperate need? What are we doing to put them into a position where they can earn a decent living? We you know, we could continue this on
it's it's a fascinating topic and I I'd love to explore
Are the other six with you as well. But
I really appreciate your,
your time. I know you're a very busy man and but you've always been generous with your time and I look forward to further collaborations, treasure and cherish our opportunities to work together. And I hope we'll have many more going forward
Thanks for coming.
I've always found the seven deadly sins a compelling, compelling assessment of some of the fundamental problems in the in the human condition. And it's not really from the Islamic tradition, we although all of them are in are identified as problems, the way that they're structured in the in the Catholic tradition as being kind of the root, the red X, you know, the root of, of the problems intrigues me. But greed, which is the one I wanted to talk about with you, is, is a fascinating problem, because
economics, and I think the Jews and the Muslim share this, that economics is so central to both traditions, like out of the 613
Mitzvoth Yeah, that about 120 Apparently, I mean, this one rabbi I read said about 120 deal with economics, which is, which is a large bulk, are one of the most fundamental books in our tradition, which is called them WAPA, which is basically the first major collection of Hadith. A third of it deals with economics. And, and one of the things about both the Bible and the Quran is filled with verses about economic justice, and treating people with dignity and taking care of the orphan, taking care of the widow taking care of the poor.
You know, giving back from what you've been given the actual the very beginning of the Quran says that, you know, those who believe in God, believe in the unseen, all the things that go with the unseen, and from what they have been given give out.
You know, so it's very interesting because one of the
one of the fundamental things about being human is breathing, which is taking in and then exhaling, right, we have to exhale we, we take in food, we have to defecate and urinate. And I find it fascinating. I don't know about Hebrew, but in Arabic, the word for greed after Isha after avarice, and the word for constipation is the same in Arabic M sack.
Yeah, you know, I can't remember what what I don't know that there's a word that's exactly like greed.
But greed is always under attack in, in the, in the Bible, I mean, didn't have it, but Torah, in a very strong way. Right. And, but I don't think that's the term that's used. But it's,
you know, that the Torah is filled with commands about how to treat other human beings, and,
and, in particular, around the issue of
not assuming that you have a right to maximize your wealth without regard to the consequences for others. So we live in a society where this part of Chara has been very deeply underplayed in the synagogues, in those synagogues where people were seeking to make it in America to ascend the ladder, so to speak, because most Jews who came here in the 1880s to 1920 is a until when they cut off immigration, that when the country cut off immigration, because there were too many foreigners coming here, although of course, everybody here was a foreigner originally, except for Native Americans. But anyway, well, they've always been a nativist, or the Anglo Saxons have always seen
themselves as a privileged group. I mean, my ancestors were Irish, who came here and had a horrible time. My great grandfather actually hid their Irish roots just because upward mobility demanded that in the type work he was doing, right, but upward mobility
was so central to the aspirations of Jews and many other people, particularly after the a lot of people come here, isn't it? It's definitely one of the motivations although most of the family that I have that came here, came here to avoid
Being persecution, yeah, because in in 1880, the czar declared that his policy would be 1/3 of the Jews have to leave 1/3 of the Jews have to be killed and 1/3 of the Jews have to be forced to convert to Christianity. And that was just an expression of the reality that had been really since at least the time of Constantine, about 320. Bees of this current era, while the Jewish community, they were always the, the release, the government used for the pressure on the people, it was all too direct. I mean, this was done in England, you know, it was done in France, it was done in Spain, I mean, so many places. It's a way I think of getting around the real problems that are engulfing
us. And I think greed seems to be at the root of a lot of these problems. I agree it is. And, and what I want to say is, is that
both my book, which I'll get to in a second, but the terror, okay, is deeply concerned about this issue. And, and, and, in particular, letting people on insisting that people at least draw strong boundaries around them. And one of those boundaries is that for six days a week, you can work, but on the Shabbos, on Sabbath, you have to shut things down. You can't you can't touch money, you can't buy anything. You can't In other words, you can't get involved in the the endless pursuit of more now, that is, that has been a very strongly policed, I should say, in the, in the religious community. And,
and when I became religious, it was a problem for my parents, because I was saying, Hey, you're not doing the right thing. But on the Sabbath on the Sabbath, right? Because, because my father would go to synagogue and afterwards he would say, Okay, now I'm going to get this. I'm going to drive down to my workplace stick. So it was, he was a lawyer and, and worked a lot of the time. So
yeah, there was a and so there was Shabbos. Okay, that was, but then there was something even more extreme, the sabbatical year, right. The sabbatical year said that, that the every seventh year, you can't work your land. Now this was to a people who were totally assisted on farming. Yeah, farming was the whole way we let instead God, you leave it fallow and then it replenishes you're not gonna leave it follow. But you make land. That word was
it's it's belongs to everyone. Right? It doesn't belong to Commons. It's like a commons for that year. So anybody who's hungry, can come and eat the animals who may be also the gleanings even in the years that they that they harvested, the gleanings were always left for the poor people. I mean, they Yeah, but that that was to during every harvest that you were supposed to leave anything that fell off, you're right. The Gleanings I called, right. So but but on the seventh year, there was you couldn't you were not allowed that you were allowed to pick something for yourself. Sure, but you could not pick anything that you were going to sell. Right. Okay. And, and you had to allow No, no
boundaries that would keep out for people or hungry, or animals that were hungry. Right. Okay. So and then finally, the, the, the combination of that was the, the Jubilee, the Jubilee was this, the the debt that the 50th year in which all all debts were cancelled, and all and all ownership was cancelled. So everybody was set, sent back to wherever its original tribe was, and you started all over. Okay, so these are genius solutions to a lot of problems. I want to I still want to put this on the ballot, okay, in the United States. And in that in my book,
revolutionary love. I talked a little bit about what it might look like for us to have an economy that was based on this kind of biblical vision. Yeah. Because I believe it. It helps cure the soul of some of the greed. Not totally because you're living
In a society in which is so deeply based in capitalist values that are those capitalist values are, look out for number one, maximize your own interest without regard to the consequences for others. And if you don't do that everybody else will. So you're a fool. You're unrealistic. And you're really self destructive, if you don't put your own interests above everybody else. Yeah, I think a lot of these problems stemmed from the loss of religious tradition, because all all these religious traditions, whether you're Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, they all had ways of mitigating acquisitiveness, you know, this idea of that we're here just to acquire and get more,
they all had ways of trying to purify yourself of that, because it's very natural. I mean, these are, these are, these are the natural sins, you know, in the Purgatorio, the, these sins of, you know, you have that middle sin of sloth, but then you get into the first one on the top of purgatory of the mount is his greed, and then gluttony. And then lust, because they're endless was the least of them, because you're literally at the top, you're almost in paradise now. And, and it was because that was the most natural, so gluttony, you know, the Gluttony is the is is it is a perversion of the love of self preservation. Lust is a perversion of the love of the preservation of the species.
The acquisitiveness is a very interesting cupidity is about desire, but it's a perversion of love of what is good, the goods, you know, that make life
really not just bearable, but actually enjoyable, you know, the basic necessities that we need, but that gets perverted into this desire for more and more and more, and it's a very corrupting and corrosive and I think all of our religious traditions really warn people about this, and I don't see that warning anymore. I mean, I feel like so little is talked about the problem of greed in our culture. I mean, we have these apparently, there's programs about these things, American Greed, which is like, it'll have somebody like
Bernie Madoff, you know, and, and what he did, or some other greedy person who did this ad or the other, but it's, for me, it's like, you know, It's turtles all the way down. It's greed all the way down. Like this is a deeply human problem that transcends, you know, just the institutional problems of it. And there are, so you'll allow me to slightly take issue with you. No, absolutely. So slightly or largely?
Yeah, I believe that this is a problem of the, the combination of the emergence some eight to 10,000 years ago, of class societies and patriarchy. And now that was, that's last eight to 10,000 years of our history, but they were 90,000 years before that, okay, in which greed wasn't the major way that people react related to each other. On the contrary, there was a least reasonable evidence, nothing conclusive, because it was before we have, we have the kinds of things that can't as total certainty about what's going on. But most of what we see, and what we hear from the stories that people brought, in, brought about that time, indicated a high level of caring for each other, at least in
your tribe. And, but there was a problem, namely, that there wasn't enough food around so they were a hunter gatherers, the people who started a capitalism, or at least whatever we'll call the world have ownership of the land. Okay. That was a brand new concept. 10. According to the Talmud, I thought, when when Cain was banished to the land of Nod, he sets up the first city and demarcates the first property boundaries. I mean, that's pretty early, isn't it? That Well, yeah, I mean, that. I mean, I'm not convinced of that argument. I think it's a very romantic argument. It's kind of kind of nostalgic way of looking at the past human nature to me is human nature. I live to tribal people.
And I actually really like I live with that one. And, and they they're living the way they've lived for millennia, probably. I mean, Bedouin means the first people in Arabic. So they really are the First Nations and they definitely do take care of themselves, but the
There's discrepancies and there's more successful ones. For instance, there's people that had more cows than other people in the group that I was with that more camels, they had nicer tents, they had better stuff, there's always going to be these things. But do you envy them? Or do you see it as God's blessed him? I have to be more patient. Maybe God will bless me down the road. I mean, it's, it's a very different way spiritually of looking at it. So I think I still think the desire is there. But it does get perverted. And and I mean, we could debate all day long about nature and nurture. And is it our societies that are doing this to us? Because I do think this culture does a
lot of damage to people in terms of getting priorities. Right. But you know,
when, when, the,
in the 15th and 16th century, when European countries started to get the idea of colonizing others, there were many reports that came back about how the people there were, were really, not really human. And the reason that they gave was they, they work as long as they have to, to feed themselves and their family, and then they stop. And they don't have the idea of accumulating more than they need.
So and and this was a while I think a lot of tribal peoples are like that. Yeah, I mean, the people I lived with, they pretty much all their possessions could be put onto a camel. Right? So
I wouldn't call it greed, when what what they were trying to do was to get worried is a disease of the heart. Right? Yeah. So but when, but the, the emergence of a capitalist class came, in contrast to the values of the Catholic Church that ran most of Europe, in the, in the Middle Ages and the late Middle Ages. And the the, the, the big objection to that was that the, the Catholic clap, the Catholics had a vision of a fair price for, for what you were sell, and a fair, fair rent out a salary, or to those who work for you. And the early capitalists were struggled against that. And what they came up with was the idea of freedom. And what they meant by freedom was being free for
anybody telling us what we should do, right? We want to be totally free to do whatever we want to do. But the actual way that emerged was, we want to be free to be greedy. We want to be free to get as much as we want, and pay as little as we want to the working people. Now you can say oh, well, that everybody we know, subsequently in the last 400 years has has shown greed. I'm saying to you, it was not. I mean, we have this disagreement. Okay. We I don't I don't think we're disagreeing. I mean, I would agree with you fundamentally, with with what you're saying. I think there's definitely a lot of truth to that. And like I said, I think the the desire to better oneself is a very natural
desire that that I think all human beings have, when it becomes pathological is when it it begins to oppress others. And the you know, the word in Arabic for desire and oppression is the same one of the words, but he, it's literally means to desire something and to oppress something. I mean, Neva is a good example. We, if we look at the, you know, with Ahab and Jezebel, and I mean, he wanted the vineyard. Yeah, right. So he's already in a society that has had had about 5000 years worth of class society. But the whole idea that you can own the land is one that is that and, and that you can, and that you have a right to own own the land, which was the primary form of, of, of wealth. That's one
that God in the Torah says, okay, because God says, Okay, I know there's going to be people who are going to object to this and say, This is my land. And so God says back and this is in Leviticus, God says, key lico hauritz, the whole land is mine. It's mine. You are your soldiers. Your soldiers here, you know, you know, you're here for a little while. The whole land is mine. I'm telling you, that you've got to stop focusing on maximizing your own well being and share what you have with others. And so, that is a counter tradition, to to what I make
misunderstand you, but I think that you are attributing to human nature. And I'm saying no, it's not that way. And so like I grew up in my grandfather, my both my grandparents actually on both sides, when they had extra time, they sat down and they studied to her. They studied the Bible. They love to study, okay, they love to do that. They didn't they weren't thinking, how do we get more? It was nuts. Look, I'm that's the way I am like, it's, it's not my nature. I'm not I'm not somebody who wants to acquire a lot of books. Maybe I do like books, right? But but I'm not. If anything, I have inquisitive nature for knowledge, like I really like knowledge and our Prophet peace be upon him. He
said, two things, the son of Adam will never grow weary of
hunting after the world or hunting after knowledge like that. It's an insatiable quest. Like once you set out to try to, to acquire the world. It's an insatiable quest. I mean, the word you know, in, in,
in greed, apparently, the old English word it comes from a German word, which means hungry. Right? It's, it's, it's but it's an insatiable hunger. Yeah, you know, and in fact, I think avidity as well. Aviva in, in Latin is also to crave or to hunger something right, you know, so So there are people clearly that have these problems.
Of even hoarders. I mean, this is, this is a problem. It's a human problem. And I don't think we can just dismiss it as being
a structural problem. I mean, I think structure participates in it. But I think you're still dealing with with the nature of human beings. And I think, you know, my dad and I, when I was very young, I took a much closer position to your position with my dad, and he used to, you know, say you suffer from the Rousseau Ian fallacy that because he was much more kind of Hobbes in view of human nature, and it seems to be these are two views of nature. But I think there's a lot more evidence even in in pre modern societies. I mean, if you look like here, the Kama ceria didn't have you. Do you know about Native American history like with the Comanche what they, you know, they had a huge area that
they controlled and they were like Spartans. They were great warrior people. They took other natives as slaves, other natives paid them tribute. I mean, we have the Aztecs if you read like the conquest of Mexico, and look at the Aztecs, I mean, they had, you know, they were sacrificing on average about 20,000 people a year just to their gods, I mean, human beings, it's just I don't know, even in primitive societies, it seems that the nature is not the kind of Rousseau in noble savage, one of the most interesting things for me, of seeing once a footage of an Amazonian tribe that had never been had contact with Western people. And some anthropologists had footage of them, they come out of
the forest with their bows, like just perched. And one of the things about you the anthropologists call it pseudo speciation, you know, that, like I lived with tribal people, and I think within the tribe, it's very nice, but well on to a tribe that comes on to their watering places, and messes with it without permission, because they'll go to war over it. And, and so I think, again, even if you look at people, Aboriginal peoples, they had a sense of property, they had a sense of tribal land, you didn't just go on to, to another tribes land. I mean, the Kota and Pawnee wars were about hunting grounds before we got here. Well, first of all, I don't know when we got here, but like,
they also got here from someplace. Yeah, okay. And many of those Indian tribes came from
Russia crossing the Mongolia, Mongolia, etc. So,
okay, we have a difference of opinion about this. Okay. I'm, I still maintain that there were societies where, when they were hoarding, they were hoarding because they didn't have enough, but for a good point. And so yes, of course, they're going to want to protect their, whatever source they have, because it's because the the water isn't guaranteed from the heavens. You know, it requires some energy to put in
But what I'm saying to you is, Okay, I'm coming from a different tradition. My tradition says, it's possible to build a different kind of world. The Jewish tradition is my tradition, we Muslims acknowledge the Jewish tradition as from God, like our prophets are your prophets, like we the only difference? We accept Jesus and we accept the Prophet Muhammad salah, same as last Prophet, even though many rabbis, enlightened rabbis recognize the Prophet Muhammad as a providential force? Yeah, I do. And as I, as I also represent Jesus, so So I say we come from a different tradition. And we both recognize both of our traditions recognize that people are stewards, like we are, we're passing
through, none of us were nomads in that way. We're all nomads in that way. We're, we're passing through this world. You can't take it with you, as they say. And, and in our tradition, the wisest people are the ones that are most detached from the world. The people that give away their goods, the people that the Quran says, they ask them, what do we spend out from and the Quran says what you have extra, in other words, what you don't need. And so needs and wants are very important distinctions like what we need, I mean, I learned from living with Bedouin, we need very little, and I know that I could live with very, very little in my life, because I lived for seven years with
Bedouin people. And I experienced I had no, I mean, I literally had a handful of books, and and a couple of garments just to wear on my back, I didn't need anything. So I I don't think we're, we're in any disagreement about that fundamental thing. But we are while we are caretakers, I do believe that our traditions both acknowledge property, and I think even Aboriginal peoples that share in the commons, many things. His teepee is his teepee, he might invite you in. But it's his teepee. If you try to take it from him, he's going to fight you. And I think that's human nature. Well, as I said, our tradition of this the seven, the sabbatical year is one that weakens your connection to the
notion of property. And the Jubilee eliminates it entirely, you have to give up whatever you've had, and go back to your original starting place, so that so you no longer own whatever you bought along the way, or whatever, you know, came to you as a result of market relationships, if you give it up, but let me just switch for a second to to another point because I wanted to tell you a little bit about revolutionary love and least one central idea, which is love, central revolutionary love means recognizing the the possibility of loving everybody on the planet of caring equally for everybody on the planet. And of course, most people will say in a capitalist society, well, that's impossible. We
can't even you know, we can't even love our neighbor much less. But the terror is based on this, this notion of love the stranger love the other, the one that you don't know, the people here don't. So that's the basis of my book, revolutionary love. But what I say in there is a strategy for today, which is, in my view, an anti capitalist strategy is this, that we need a new bottom line, that today, productivity, efficiency and rationality are judged to the degree that any institution maximizes money or power, or, or what you'd call success when courts success. And the new bottom line says no, the we should judge institutions efficient, rational and productive. And by that
institutions that mean the economy, the the vehicle system, the educational system, the cultural system, our
our healthcare system, for sure, should be judged efficient, rational and productive, to the extent that they maximize loving caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and environmental sensitivity, enhance our capacity to see other human beings and treat them as embodiments of the holy and to look at the universe not and the earth not primarily from the standpoint of can I turn something into a product and sell it and make a buck but rather looking at it with all and wonder and radical amazement at the grand jury of all Korea? You have me I'm on board great yeah, no, I'm right here
i That's the new bottom line that should be the new bottom I couldn't agree with you more I you know, the there's so many things that
well, need fixing isn't even an adequate idiom for it. I mean, they're they're really
He is so many things have gone profoundly wrong with with, with the way we live our lives. And I think in many ways, the way we live our lives is causing people to be really ill. I mean, I think a lot of the mental illness, I think a lot of the, the unsettled nature of people, I mean, one of the daughters in, in the tradition, you know, because these, these diseases of the heart have daughters, and I mean, they call them the virtues have daughters as well. So it's more about fecundity like that they they produce
the virtues have daughters that produce other virtues, and then the vices have daughters that produce other vices. But the one of the the daughters of greed is restlessness, you know, that people are unsettled in their being, you know, they're just not. And you see that with so many people he needs to, but yeah, he's, he's, you know what Lewis Mumford said about Sabbath. Have you ever seen that? No time? Yeah, definitely read Mumford. But yes, yeah, I really like Mumford. He's kind of, I think he fell out a fair bit he people read him in the 60s. But he thought that Sabbath was a way of shutting down the mega machine. Like he just felt like it's it was put in there to
bring it all to a grinding halt. Exactly. It's there's a popular book now called
how to do nothing. And, and that's Chavez is about that it's about not stop doing and start rejoicing at the grandeur of the university take, you know, take a full 25 hours before from starting really an hour before sunset, to an hour after sunset on Saturday night. To just celebrate the universe to not, don't act on it, don't cook. Don't you know, it? Make it a day in which and and I've just read some texts and where the we're in the medieval medieval period of Jewish life they they extended that to and don't let the women work is nice. Yeah. Not don't let women work in your kitchen or something. Okay, sure. So we relax. That's the Buddhist solution. Don't don't just
don't just do something sit there. Right. Yeah. Right. But this is like slightly more than that. Because it's not just sit there but look at the Grand jewel. I think that's meditate. You know, I mean, yeah, yeah. Celebrate the grandeur of this universe is so amazing. Instead of looking at it continually from the standpoint of what can I get from the time is not money for us. Time is life. And we live time, right? We don't you know, so that that equation that time is money is a horrible, terrible, you know, my teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Abraham Joshua Heschel, he was my mentor. I read his book on the Kennedys. Yeah. So he, he, he used to say that
Sabbath, His Holiness in time, nice, and he said that, you know, there are other religions whose primary holiness is in space, that Judaism's holiness is in time. It's transforming time to be a sacred vehicle for connecting to the God of the universe. Islam is in time and space. Yes, Chicago, congratulations.
Yeah, because we do we have, you know, Baraka I mean, I think it's, it's a Hebrew as well, bottle guttural. Yes. Yeah. So Baraka is both there's time baraka and then there's space Baraka, yeah, so certain places have more vodka than other places. So you can experience that. Yeah, like the, the terms of the righteous, I want to Yeah, and because we're coming to a close here, but I want to end on an interesting fact that I was looking at, in 1916, we had the first billionaire. That was John D. Rockefeller,
who actually loaned my great grandfather money to, to mine in in Minnesota, you know, which is Lakota land Minnesota. Yeah. And I actually asked, CHIEF arval LOOKING HORSE, you can find it in his heart to forgive my ancestors for doing that, which initially, we're having breakfast. Do you know him? Have you ever met she Pharrell? He's the traditional pipe carrier of the Lakota. And so we did some things together. It's really interesting, man, but he
you know, I've had breakfast and then I told him what my grandfather had owned all these iron ore mines up in that wasabi rain.
He just kind of turned away from me in. And I was like, this was really stupid. You know, I shouldn't have brought that up. The next day, we were on a panel together. And
they were asking, it was an interfaith panel. And they asked this question no to think of something that you really appreciate about another person's tradition. And Chief arval said, I don't really know any other traditions, but my own.
But I will say that as as the Lakota pipe carrier, I'm not allowed to hold any rancor in my heart. And if I can't fulfill that, I have to give up the pipe. And he said, so I just want to embrace my brother Hamza, and just let him know that I forgive his family. Yeah. Yeah, it was very nice. But it didn't fall. Yeah. But anyway, in 2009, there were 793 billionaires in the United States. And in 2016 1810, yeah. And now there's over 2000. And I, you know, it just makes me wonder, like, you know, this massive transfer of wealth that's happening, especially COVID, has been this huge opportunity, this for this class of people that are a rarefied elite in our culture. I mean, they
could all fit into a, you know, relatively small hall. Yes. Well, I mean, the that I just read today, that the three richest men in America have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population. Right? Can you imagine three people who have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population? And it's just unbelievable. And there's so much good that those people could do if they kept the first 2 billion for themselves, and then share the rest with everybody else, and made it possible. We have, we have people literally starving on our streets, we have people and they're not just a few people. 1000s, you know, millions of people are in desperate, desperate need of health care, and they can't
get it. This is what I'm saying to you that it is a system issue. No, no. No, we have a huge sisters that validate selfishness and greed. And this is and that greed is reinforced daily in the experience of the work world, and the distribution of goods and services. So you have to change that. Now, of course, you also have to change people individually. And that's why you have to work on both work on both fronts. Yeah, I would agree. I think there's a lot of things that structurally need to change in, in our world, undeniably. Great. It's good to see you again. And I'm glad you know you've been out there for a long time doing fighting the good fight, so
Okay, thank you so much for having me.